BrokenTV’s Top 100 Television Shows Of The 00s: Part 7

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Into the TOP FIFTY we roar on our special critical moped, with us briefly pausing to remind patrons that only TV shows which began in the years 2000-2009 are getting included here, so don’t expect to see The Sopranos or The Daily Show or Countryfile.

imageYes, you read that correctly. Popular children's television programme Doctor Who is only at number fifty.  Not only that, but we've decided it falls within the remit of our listing, as we've decided that Doctor Who began in 2005. Now, admittedly, we've partly done that because it'll irritate the sort of people who get way too precious about such matters, but mainly because it was a proper reboot of the franchise, and is therefore eligible. On a similar tip, we could have included the rebooted updates of Crossroads, the Ving Rhames version of Kojak and the Al Bundy version of Dragnet, only we haven't, because they were all rubbish.

Anyway, to nick a phrase from brilliant early 1980s Dicky Howlett one-off Marvel UK comic book Channel 33⅓, Doctor Whom. It has been a tricky programme to place in the rundown, mainly because the quality of the show since it returned has been massively variable. Had the standard remained anywhere near as high as the five best episodes (which, putting our spod hats on, we'd say are "The Unquiet Dead", "The Empty Child", "The Doctor Dances", "The Girl in the Fireplace" and "Blink"), it'd be sitting quite comfortably in the top three. Sadly, far too many episodes have been packed with annoying plot resolutions where the Doctor points his sodding sonic screwdriver at the problem he wants to go away, or says "hang on, if I can just reverse the polarity on this [otherwise harmless object]...", so number fifty it is.

As any geek worth their black T-shirt with an ironic in-joke printed on the front will tell you, 80% of our five best episodes come from the head of soon-to-be head writer Steven Moffat, so it's likely the programme will become much, much better from the new year onwards. Heck, even if Moffat panics and simply re-uses a load of plots from Press Gang, it'll still be brilliant. If nothing else, he'll avoid having the entire globe attacked by Daleks and/or Cybermen at the end of each series, only for everyone on the planet to forget all about it the next time it happens.

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Written by Simon Day and Andrew Collings Off Of Podcasts, this was surely one of the least BBC Three-friendly BBC Three sitcoms to ever be given a full series. Grass involved over-friendly Londoner Billy Bleach (Simon Day reprising his character from The Fast Show) inadvertantly witnessing a gangland slaying, and subsequently relocating to a sleepy rural village on the witness protection programme, finding himself placed in the care of dozy village bobby PC Harriet (Robert Wilfort, who we'd noticed not long afterwards in a Channel Four comedy pilot doing a sarcastic but enjoyable impersonation of Ross Noble, and who we haven't seen much since. Possibly Ross Noble has had him killed).

There's a lot more to the plot than that, involving the couple of CID officers sent from the big smoke to keen an eye on things, the attractive lady vet Billy repeatedly tries to woo, the slightly eerie child prodigy, the enigmatic poacher, fellow Fast Showee Mark Williams as the pretentious city boy trying to win the locals round to his gastropub idea, and his philosophical head chef, which go some way to explaining just how involved it all was. In fact, the show could have been hugely enjoyable even if the central character Billy hadn't been there at all, seeing as the supporting characters had such thoroughly well rounded personalities. Sounds like a trite things to say, but all too often we’ve had to put up with sitcoms where Character A is ‘this’ type of person, Char B is ‘that’ type of person, and so on, and so on. In Grass for example, the CID officers didn't just slot into the good cop/bad cop-shaped holes - one was a modern Blairite detective always ready to consider the bigger picture and use the training from all the courses he’d been on, while the other was a middle-aged detective who'd seen more of the world, was something of a traditionalist, but was also coming to terms with having recently come out of the closet, and getting used to his gay relationship with the first CID officer.

So, with all that that going on, one might expect the central character plucked straight from The Fast Show to be a little jarring, with him spouting a catchphrase every couple of minutes. Not a bit of it, the setting allowed the character of Billy Bleach to flourish, allowing for some nice interplay between him and PC Harriet, first when the pair are muddling through sharing a cottage together, and later when the CID officers arrive and duly treat the duo like a pair naughty kids, sending them to their bunkbeds early.

It really was a brilliant little show, quite unfairly treated by BBC Three - fellow Fast Show spin-off 'Swiss Toni' seemed to have much more attention lavished on it by the digital channel, despite that not being anywhere near as good. Grass probably would have been more at home on BBC Four, but hopefully it'll one day turn up on Dave, allowing more people to see just how good it really was.

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Yeah, she figuratively died on her arse when she did that highly-priced live show in London, and indeed fared about as badly when she guested on both …Buzzcocks and 8 Out Of 10 Cats (as seems to be the case for every US stand-up who comes over here to promote something, only to discover where ‘they’ have a 'chat show circuit' we have a 'panel show circuit', where they're expected to understand jokes about X-Factor and Atomic Kitten). But here's the thing: The Sarah Silverman Program was brilliant.

To the casual viewer, it might well have come over as another half-baked attempt to shock (albeit within the framework of Comedy Central's language and decency guidelines, so the writers couldn't just have someone saying 'fuck' every three minutes). It was actually quite a lot cleverer than that, with almost all of the offensive lines coming from the relentlessly optimistic and whimsically naïve character of Sarah. One episode sees Sarah debating with a black waiter at her local coffee shop about who has the hardest time in American society - black people or Jewish people. To try and see things from his perspective, Sarah innocently aims to get first-hand experience of what it's like to be black in 21st century America - by spending a day wearing blackface. The appalled and disgusted reactions she receives from everyone leads her to assume that everyone else is racist. Think of it as like Mike Leigh's "Happy Go Lucky", but with jokes about fanny farts. It's possibly quite telling that three of the main players (Silverman, Brian Posehn and Jay Johnson) were involved in the majestic Mr Show, to which The Sarah Silverman Program exhibits a very similar feel.

Bonus fact for fans of the show at number 50: One episode sees Brian Posehn's character become obsessed with a campy British sci-fi DVD boxset, in which the lead role is played by a certain Christopher Eccleston.

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It might just be the people we went to school with, but as far as we were aware, out of Newman and Baddiel, it was Rob Newman that everyone liked the best. However, possibly due to the fact Newman had never shared a flat with Frank Skinner, when “Robert Newman's A History Of Oil“ appeared on More4 in 2006, it was the first time we'd seen him do something new on TV for aaaages. About thirteen years, by our watches, which for some reason have a “how long was it since Robert Newman last did something new on telly” setting.

A History Of Oil helped prove just what a shame that was, what with Newman having spent the time since '...In Pieces' becoming a sort of funny Mark Thomas, if you can imagine such a thing. This programme looked at the history of... oh, you've guessed. Very illuminating it was too, making a number of very interesting points, such as how oil in Iraq was one of the primary reasons behind the First World War. But - and here's where Newman took a very different approach to Mark Thomas - it was also very funny, as opposed to just being very self-satisfied about the bits where receptionists got bullied.

The entire shebang can be seen on YouTube, starting from here.

See also: The History Of The World Backwards (BBC Four 2007). This being Newman’s ‘proper’ TV comeback, this had a lot of really nice ideas – not least of all the central premise of “what would history be like if time ran backwards?” – but did lack a certain something special. Still an interesting programme, but not quite ‘there’. Pity.

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Sealab 2020 was an early 1970s Hanna-Barbera cartoon show about an underwater research base. Pretty much in the Captain Planet vein, it aimed to teach the kids about the need to respect marine life, and the sea, and whatnot. It didn't really succeed in those aims, and was cancelled after just sixteen episodes had been made, only thirteen of which were actually broadcast.

Arriving almost thirty years later, Sealab 2021 visited the crew a year later. By this time, the crew have become more than a little sceptical about their mission, if not entirely stir crazy. They tend to spend the majority of their time arsing about, having extended conversations about what they'd be like if they were robots, killing each other, or trying to take over the world. Coming from the brains of Adam Reed and Matt Thompson (previously mentioned in our list for their later work Frisky Dingo), .you've got to admire the concept of a show lampooning a kids cartoon from three decades previous,  that practically no-one remembered anyway.  It'd be like someone in this country putting together a sitcom where DJ Kat went on to become a shambling alcoholic.

We might be excused of giving our descriptive powers the day off when we say this, but all you really need to know is that Sealab 2021 is absolutely fanfuckingtastically brilliant. For one thing - in a manner similar to World Of Pub (see earlier in the list) - most episodes end with the Sealab facility being destroyed and everyone getting killed. For another thing, it has played host to some of the most majestically demented episodes ever seen of any television programme since the BBC stopped letting Spike Milligan make any. Case in point, the episode quite innocently titled "Vacation" - it needs to be seen in full to get the full impact, and luckily you can do just that here.

Go on, watch it. It’ll give you something to do until the next episode of BrokenTV’s Top 100 Television Shows Of The 00s.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Frankly 50 is too high for jumped-up CBBC prog Dr Who

One hopes that The RDA makes this list!

Keep up the good work

Mark X said...

Thanks!

Sadly, I never managed to catch any of the RDA. By the time I'd cottoned on to how how everyone was saying it was, it'd finished. Really annoying, as from the clips I've seen it seems to be brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Great list so far, thanks.

Sealab 2021 is fucking awesome, though for me it doesn't quite beat Aqua Teen Hunger Force as most hilariously demented cartoon show.